The CFPB issues guidance on ensuring equal treatment for same-sex married couples


On June 25, 2014, the CFPB issued guidance setting forth basic principles on the issue of equal treatment for legally-married same-sex couples. The CFPB noted that this guidance was issued in response to the decision in United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013), in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”). Section 3 of DOMA provided: “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

The CFPB stated that its guidance was for purposes of all statutes, regulations and policies enforced, administered or interpreted by the CFPB. It declared that, to the extent permitted by federal law and consistent with the legal position announced by the U.S. Department of Justice, it will be the CFPB’s policy to recognize all marriages valid at the time of the marriage in the jurisdiction where the marriage was celebrated. Thus, a person who is married in any jurisdiction will be regarded as married nationwide for purposes of the federal statutes and regulations under the CFPB’s jurisdiction regardless of the person’s place of residency. However, consistent with other federal agencies, the CFPB will not regard a person to be married by virtue of being in a domestic partnership, civil union or other relationship not denominated by law as a marriage.

Under this policy, the CFPB stated that it will use and interpret the terms “spouse,” “marriage,” “married,” “husband,” and “wife,” and similar terms relating to marriage or family status, to include same-sex marriages and married same-sex spouses. The CFPB stated that it will apply this policy to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and Regulation B, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act and Regulation J, the Truth in Lending Act and Regulation Z, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act and Regulation X, the Bureau Ethics Regulations, and the Procedures for Bureau Debt Collection. As part of its discussion, the CFPB noted specific parts of each such statute or regulation that use words or phrases such as “spouse,” or “husband and wife,” and stated that it will apply this language to married same-sex couples and gender-neutrally.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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